“Wouldn’t mind a decent meal right about now.”
Birch strains his neck to glare at the human on his right. “I wouldn’t mind being out of this fucking well.”
His back is hard up against the stone, his fur is full of dirt and whatever else was lying on the bottom of this dried-up well before they’d unceremoniously jumped in – too scared of a headless horse to worry about maybe drowning or scattering their brains at the bottom. A human, a tiefling, and a fox fall into a well. Birch wants to slam his skull against the wall just for thinking up that shitty joke-starter.
No bounty is worth this level of fuckery.
Griff, the human, stretches his legs as best he can. His stomach rumbles. “Well, I mean, since we’re down here and we ain’t getting out any time soon… wouldn’t mind a decent meal, is all. Never gone more’n a few hours without a decent meal.”
When Birch joined this pair, hungry for a chance to earn some coin that didn’t involve working in a circus of chasing mice on a farm, he’d thought he’d at least met a couple of creatures after his own heart. But these two are a couple of the dumbest bounty hunters Birch could ever have the misfortune of running into. It serves him right for taking the first offer that came his way.
“Ya’ll are on my tail,” the tiefling, Clent, says quietly. He’s being right calm for a creature who just blasted the shit out of an angry horse, only for it to go on kicking at him with just a bloody stump where its head used to be. But Clent’s always been that way.
Birch would have given him a bite by now – just a nip, just so that he knows Birch ain’t playin’, just to see what the tiefling’s reaction would be – but there’s no getting through that creature’s scale armour. Tieflings are a tough breed. Not like humans, who get bloody at the slightest of slight nibbles.
Griff tries his best to move off Clent’s dragon-like tail, but the walls of the well are so narrow that the tiefling can’t really get the damn thing into a comfortable spot. In the end, he drapes it over all their shoulders, nearly crushing Birch under the weight.
“Nice,” Birch says. “How’d you like it if I started smacking you with my tail?”
“I’d actually like that a lot,” Griff replies, looking around at the tiny fox in the corner of the well. “Looks so fluffy.”
Birch tucks his tail under himself and crosses his arms over his chest.
They fall silent. Their breathing echoes in the chamber around them, making Birch shiver and the hairs raise on his neck. It’s an uncomfortable, being-watched feeling. As though there are dozens of creatures down there with them. But there ain’t. There’s just their own echoing breathes, and the faint sound of angry stomping hooves from above. Griff’s stomach growls again and it echoes.
Clent shifts a little and runs a finger down one of his long under-fangs. “I don’t s’pose ya’ll know how to fight a headless horse?” he asks.
“Go for the gonads,” says Birch, with as much authority as he can muster while half-suffocating under Clent’s tail.
“You always say that.”
“It always works.” Birch gazes up at the hole of light above them. “Maybe we should wait for it to move on, though.”
Griff snorts. “Coward.”
Birch opens his snout to retort, then falls silent. It’s too late in the day and it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting their bounty after all, so all this shit was for nothin’. They were sent after a shaman, and what they got was an asshole with a penchant for animating zombie horses.
Another rumbling growl, and this time Birch does speak up. “Can’t you do something about that?” he asks, shoving a paw into Griff’s gut.
It’s hard as a rock. Birch’s only been travelling with this pair a month, but he’s never seen the human idle. Griff was always doing crunches at the side of the road or pull-ups on a low-hanging branch. The man is one giant ball of muscle strapped with about a dozen sharpened blades.
“I’m hungry,” Griff says. He looks Birch up and down, and then leans over to whisper to the tiefling. “You got a spell that’ll cook a rat?”
“I’m a fucking fox,” says Birch.
But underneath his indignity, there’s a hint of concern. Because Griff’s tone is joking but his eyes are curious. The way Clent looks Birch over, as though sizing him up, makes the fox’s skin crawl.
“Forget it,” Birch says quickly, turning his head so that he’s looking square at a crack in the stone next to him.
“Never gone more’n a few hours without a decent meal,” says Griff. There’s a bit of a mumble to his voice, and if Birch were to look he might see the human with his thumb in between his teeth.
“We’ve only been down here a few minutes!” Birch says. “The horse’ll move on soon, you’ll see. Then we can climb out and go about our business.”
Birch hears Griff shuffle and determinedly does not look around at the human. He’s not going to show his fear. He’s going to pretend that they’re just arguing, as usual.
Finally, Griff just mutters: “Never gone more’n a few hours without a decent meal.”
Birch hopes that the headless horse moves on soon.
Author’s note: I like those little scenes that fill out what I imagine to be much larger stories. The moments that show a character’s fears and needs as prompted by the situation and other characters around them. I also really love character-led moments like these where it’s dialogue-heavy and I have to make things interesting by virtue of their personalities along. Obviously these characters have history – but who has the time to write a damn novel?? Much more fun (for me) to just knock out a fun scene that shows how the characters get along, and maybe hint at why.
PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee? 🙂